By Aisha I. Jefferson
Covington resident Bridget Pippin leaned outside the driver's window as she inched her red Ford Windstar minivan closer in the line. While her son, Brad, 9, seemed embarrassed, Pippin was excited about having the chance to make a couple of laps around the Atlanta Motor Speedway track Saturday.
"I love racing. I just wanted to get out here," said Pippin as the group of vehicles she was in line with took off behind the official AMS pace car.
Pippin was one of a few hundred drivers who took advantage of the Open House at AMS Saturday. Not only did the event allow race fans to take a two-lap drive around the track, it also provided them with a festival atmosphere with face painting, clowns, a water dunking booth, autographed merchandise giveaways and infield and garage access.
Running enthusiasts also were able to take two laps around the speedway as participants in the Pacemaker 5,000, a 5K foot race sponsored by Henry Medical Center.
AMS spokeswoman Marcy Scott said the open house is an event AMS does as part of its community outreach.
"It's the one and only time of the year that they can take their own cars on the race track. For race car fans, it's a huge, huge draw," she said.
Fans who drove around the track either purchased their Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 tickets, where they received their laps for free, or purchased tickets for the three-day race weekend in late October and a gave a $30 donation to Speedway Children's Charities.
All of types of vehicles from Pippin's Windstar to large pickup trucks to luxury sports coupes and vintage cars lined up for the opportunity to imitate their favorite NASCAR drivers, if only on a small scale.
Scott said AMS has showcased the open house for the past five years. She estimated 1,500 to 2,500 attendees at this year's event.
Jonesboro resident Danny Haney sat beside his wife, Connie, in bleachers underneath a tent as they watched Pacemaker 5,000 participants prepare for the foot race. Haney, who wore a short-sleeve denim shirt with an AMS emblem, said he loves the speedway.
"I've been a NASCAR fan since 1958. The first race I ever saw was at the old Lakewood Speedway. I was 6-years-old," said the now 53-year-old Haney. "I was at the first race here at (Atlanta Motor Speedway) in April 1960."
Although Haney was not driving around the speedway this year, he still remembered the thrill of doing so in 2004.
"It's fun. I would recommend it to anybody," Haney said.
Tommy Shelton, 52, and Regina Swancey, 44, who drove from Buford for the chance to drive around the track, agreed with Haney.
"I loved it," said Shelton, who said 75 mph was the fastest he took his white Chrysler Sebring convertible.
When it came to going around the speedway on foot, no one appeared prouder than Hampton's Rodney and Lisa Garrett. The Garretts, like many other family and friends of road race participants, cheered their loved ones on.
And it paid off. Their oldest son Jonathan, 14, came in fourth place, with a time just over 18 minutes. Their other children, daughters Lacey, 17, Shauna, 9, and Baylen, 12, also placed well for their age groups.
Rodney Garrett said his children run year-round. Lisa Garrett said they found out about Saturday's race from doing an Internet search.
But it was McDonough resident Chris Gower, 33, who finished the race on top with a time of 17 minutes 40 seconds. Douglasville's Sophia Mata, 15, who placed eighth, was the first female to complete the three-mile race.
The Pacemaker 5,000 is a fundraiser for the Henry Medical Center Foundation that goes toward the expansion of facilities and services of the hospital, said Jeff Cooper, the foundation's vice-president of development. He said they raised just over $12,000 last year, and anticipates they'll do about the same this year. This is the second year the foot race was held, and about 200 people participated, Cooper said.